The general public will not be able to watch the White House press briefing once again Monday. Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders will brief reporters Monday afternoon, where no cameras will be allowed, a move President Donald Trump’s press shop is more frequently making.
In the past, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said the off-camera briefings — where, at times, audio recording devices of any kind have been banned — are done because there are days when he decides “the president’s voice should be the one that speaks and iterates his priorities.”
Last month, for example, on a day when Trump gave a speech about veterans, Spicer said the off-camera briefing was because he would rather “let our president’s comments stand on the great things he’s doing on behalf of our veterans.”
But today, the president has an empty schedule.
Spicer has justified off-camera briefings by saying he wants the president's voice to "carry the day." Trump has no events scheduled. pic.twitter.com/3etOfVzPla
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) July 10, 2017
The White House press briefings have historically been an important opportunity for reporters to question representatives of the president about the news of the day, and Monday’s off-camera briefing comes in the wake of a number of controversies surrounding the president and his son Donald Trump, Jr.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the campaign after the promise that she could provide damaging information on former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton.
Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen. https://t.co/ccUjL1KDEa
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 10, 2017
On Monday, the administration will certainly face questions about the meeting, but unless you’re in the room, you won’t be able to watch it. And without any planned remarks from the president, the administration has no excuse for why that will be the case.
Banishing cameras from the briefing room is only one of a number of ways Spicer and the rest of Trump’s press shop have diminished the value of an important tradition. The briefings, when they happen, often last for only 15 minutes or so. In the administration’s earliest days, Spicer would often take questions for an hour or longer.
In 2009, during President Barack Obama’s first year in office, the briefings averaged 44 minutes and longer on average each consecutive year. During the Bush administration, the briefings clocked in around 30 minutes (though they averaged just 20 minutes during 2008).
Spicer and Sanders have both taken to ducking questions by simply saying they just don’t know the answer, frequently resorting to saying they haven’t discussed issues or controversies with the president. When he was asked whether taped conversations with former FBI Director James Comey exist, Spicer simply said, “I have no idea.” (The president later said they don’t.)
The briefings are, first and foremost, a chance for reporters to press the administration on questions of politics and policy. Spicer and his occasional stand-ins don’t know what questions they’ll have to field, which theoretically results in straighter answers to important questions. Broadcasting the briefings brings those theoretically straighter and more off-the-cuff answers to a larger audience, one of voters and constituents.
The White House has also found ways bring friendlier faces into the briefing room, introducing Skype questions from journalists outside the beltway, a significant majority of which have come from states that went for Trump in 2016.
Spicer also doesn’t have a problem, like much of the rest of the Trump administration, lying from the podium.
In the days following Trump’s inauguration, Spicer was adamant that Trump’s inauguration boasted a larger crowd than President Barack Obama’s first inauguration did in 2009. (It didn’t.)
The Trump administration has made it clear that it doesn’t value the press briefings, and today, with an empty schedule for the president, they’ve run out of excuses for keeping the briefings cloaked.
At least one person insists that the increasing number of off-camera, short briefings has nothing to do with concerns about the consequences of transparency. Asked last month why there have been more off-camera briefings, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon texted a journalist at The Atlantic, “Sean got fatter.”